BY VICTORIA MARTIN
It has been nearly two years since Hurricane Maria left behind pure destruction on the island of Puerto Rico. The US territory was not in the best shape to withstand the impact of this category 4 hurricane, as Hurricane Irma had left one million people on the island without power two weeks prior.
Fast forward to September 2018, exactly one year after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island, and a majority of Puerto Rico was still found to be without power, water and shelter. Since Puerto Rico already had a weak power grid system, it took 11 months to restore power to the majority of the island. About $3 billion was spent to erect new electrical poles and string thousands of miles of wire across the island.
“Eleven months without power was tough for all of us here,” an inhabitant of Puerto Rico, Irma Miranda, said. “There were many moments I thought of leaving because of the power being gone but I would never abandon my home, no matter how difficult it got while living here.”
Water was also still an issue for some parts of Puerto Rico. Many pipes that connect the island’s central aqueduct system to the numerous communities in Puerto Rico were found to be damaged after Maria. Although some of these connecting pipes were fixed immediately, due to water being one of the island’s top priorities after Maria, some repairs were forgotten or delayed. Those who lived within the smaller communities on the island had to deal with water often shutting off for weeks at a time as a result of these still-damaged pipes. However, even when these communities finally received running water, many were still wary to use it.
The island of Puerto Rico is surrounded by beautiful bodies of water. Many tourists come to visit Puerto Rico and its vast blue oceans that seem to stretch beyond the horizons. But after the hurricane Maria, it seemed like the island itself became a sea of blue as well. Due to many damaged ceilings, various houses and buildings were topped with bright blue tarps to keep the rain and other elements out.
“I would never abandon my home, no matter how difficult it got while living here.”
These tarps were meant to be used as a quick fix, as most are only supposed to last for about a month. But today, these tarps are still visible and cover a majority of private residences, especially those in smaller communities. Even after two years, many citizens still have not received proper shelter.
“I have friends who have family who are currently living with no roof over their heads,” an inhabitant of Puerto Rico, Ludy Miranda, said. “I’m blessed to have just gotten a crack in my roof but I can’t even imagine the fear of raising children under a piece of plastic.”
Nearly two years later, Puerto Rico still is not what it once was. However, this does not mean that progress has not been made. Many power issues were sorted out within the first year after Maria and the upgraded grid systems helped to keep power running throughout the island. Yet some communities are still suffering from power outages even with the upgraded systems, and in turn, many of these areas have been abandoned.
Shelter is still one of the biggest issues in Puerto Rico. Some citizens remain without a steady roof over their heads or four walls to complete their homes. Those with damaged or missing walls have taken to hanging large curtains to keep out any elements.
Many people have also abandoned the island due to the belief that Puerto Rico will never be the same again.
“Puerto Rico will never be able to fully recover from this.”
“Puerto Rico is not the place … I once knew,” previous inhabitant of Puerto Rico Luz Dolagaray said. “It’s so unbelievably destroyed, and it hurts for me to say this but I know, and the rest of us know, that Puerto Rico will never be able to fully recover from this.”
It’s not just the destruction that the people of Puerto Rico are worried about.
On July 15, 2019, a violent protest broke out in front of Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s house in the city of San Juan. Many Puerto Rican citizens were pleading for their governor to resign. Leaked messages showed the governor mocking the state of Puerto Rico after Maria and the many casualties the hurricane caused as well. To add fuel to the fire, two top officials were arrested by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on charges of steering federal money away from helping fix the damages caused by Maria to businesses they had connections with.
On July 17, a peaceful protest took place in the same area. People from all across the island came to participate, as well as popular artists such as Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny. Many streets are now filled with protesters and death threats towards the governor along with the now-popular phase, “Ricky Renuncia.”
“His resignation is a big deal and is why we are pressing for him to do it,” Dolagary said. “Everyone on this island knows that with him remaining in his position, Puerto Rico will not be able to heal. With him, we will always be reminded of what that hurricane left behind.”
Photo courtesy of Carlos Barria for Reuters